How to Write a Book in a Pandemic
For most of us, the end of the year is a time to reflect on what we did throughout the year and where we can improve for the next year. Here, I want to share how I managed to write a book in 2020 and what key strategies you can enact in 2021 to finish your book or achieve any other goal!
Here’s to a fulfilling year!
This year was a difficult one for most. We encountered severe change at unprecedented levels. No one could have imagined what early reports of a virus might look like for the world.
It has been months of “debate” over stimulus checks in many countries in the world; many businesses have gone out of business; and more relationships have ended than at any other point in recent memory.
I mean… my life has drastically changed. But I consider myself among the lucky ones.
Yes. I did lose my job in April. I was working as a barista during my university studies. I was planning to make some more money during the summer. That obviously didn’t happen.
What happened instead is that I finally had time (that precious unachievable thing) to finish my book, Up in the Air: Christianity, Atheism & the Global Problems of the 21st Century, which I was researching for more than 2 years.
I utilized a few important tools in achieving this goal. Let me tell you more.
No one could have imagined what early reports of a virus might look like for the world.
2020: January to April
My January to April of 2020 was a time of almost sole focus on school and work. I had a very difficult course load and needed high grades because I was planning to apply to Oxford and London School of Economics in the Fall semester (I actually did already apply! — wish me luck).
Thus, I managed to write approximately 40,000 words during this period.
Well, most writers know that deadlines are a serious motive for getting writing done.
Some may say that 40,000 words is not that much. Well, I was also balancing work, a relationship, and research for my book on the side.
I came back from my Christmas travels in England and Slovakia in January. I was fighting off severe fatigue from getting food-poisoning a day before my flight back home to Canada … and I devoted most of early January to getting some much-needed research done for my book because the semester was just starting and I had some free time.
Fast forward a few months to April.
Initially, I was quite relieved by the pandemic because I was seriously fatigued at this point. Looking back, I didn’t realize I was fatigued at the moment. We rarely do. But I was snappy with my closest friends, in a bad mood, and chronically stressed.
I know many of you must have felt the same way.
Then the pandemic arrived at full speed.
2020: April to August
In the early stages of the pandemic, I was recovering from a very difficult semester where I was out of money, needed to work, balance a relationship, and get the highest grades possible.
So I guess it was reasonable to have a slow start.
But then I began writing my book consistently. I wrote more than 70,000 words during the summer.
Writing a Book
The main method I utilized to writing my book was to write early in the morning when my mind was fresh. But I am not really someone who thrives with routine.
I actually thrive on switching up habits. I think one of the most important things you can do when striving to achieve a goal is to find what works best for you!
This may be hard if you thrive under something that is unique to you rather than to someone else.
So, for example … Ariana Huffington really thrives by switching her phone off at 9 PM and keeping it away from her bedroom. For myself, I don’t find it necessary. I am sure she has other methods as well that I don’t take to heart at this point in my life.
Instead, I thrive with not having my phone on me in the morning when I write. I like to be undisturbed when I write. But, at times, I really need to have noise in the background, especially when I am reading. I will write about that in my next post on how to read more in 2021.
And to be honest… August was really slow for me in writing my book. I spent more time researching for my book during August, as in reading material related to the topics, than actually writing my book. But I came back in September.
Let me tell you, though, writing consistently for long periods of time is VERY difficult. I am not sure it’s entirely possible actually.
This is not easy.
It is rewarding, yes, but it is not easy and it often does not feel rewarding.
I wanted to give up on writing my book dozens, if not hundreds, of times. I was ready to give up even in the final stages of the manuscript (aka scripting my bibliography). I have never done something so difficult as writing a 60,000-word book and self-publishing it entirely by myself.
From the early stages of research (where there is no hope of seeing a book on the horizon), to the constant (& I do mean constant) editing of the first drafts, to making the chapters flow, to making sure that each name cited is correctly written and each fact is quadruple-checked, to scripting the bibliography, & so on. The bibliography alone took me seven 8–10 hour days. Despite that, the challenge was immensely rewarding.
The self-doubt was overbearing throughout the entire process. If anything, writing this book was a great exercise to overcome self-doubt. I have been researching this topic for almost 2 years now and have collected over 400 pages of notes from the 90 or so books I read on these topics, not to mention the countless articles, lectures, and videos that I consulted. Despite that, I never felt I “deserved” to write on these topics.
I told myself that if I read enough, I’ll be able to write something cohesive & persuasive. I realize that I could have researched this book so much more. And obviously, researching the book was not everything I was doing for the past 2 years.
For most of the research period, my inner voice kept telling me that at least I’m reading and writing notes on books that interest me. But I frequently thought that I would never use the material I was researching. Luckily, I made it. I managed to push through those voices. And I am thankful for the support throughout the process — without it, I would have NEVER been able to do this.
I wanted to give up on writing the book dozens, if not hundreds, of times.
September to December
In late August, I traveled to England to be with a friend, on my way to Slovakia for the semester.
I started to book podcasts for the release of my book which I was planning for September. I left the formatting of my book for September as well. Formatting was also difficult but that is for another post.
Life from September to October was fast-paced and demanding, probably for all of us. For myself, it felt like the tasks were never-ending and the stress only increasing. My semester started and assignments started to pile up.
I went to Vienna in October which really helped life to stop for a second. My book was out. I had 5 podcast conversations about my book and told myself that I’ll focus on applications and school.
Vienna was an interesting experience — a breath of fresh air — because I quite literally did not speak (in person) with a friend for 3 days. It finally gave me a chance to reflect. I was alone in a large city making sense of experience, my attention, and what made me stressed.
I had a lot of time to catch up on podcasts, read, visit museums and go to historically significant places (Sigmund Freud’s house, Mozart’s house, Franz Joseph’s summer residence, the Habsburgs’ primary residence, and the largest library in Austria). I also went to Corfu, a Greek Island in Northern Greece, to visit a friend which was also very refreshing.
I’m learning that deep gratitude can be possible amidst great uncertainty and that your perspective can change your experience fundamentally. I am really grateful I was able to feel the truth of this statement on my trip; at times, it is more difficult to grasp.
In the words of Sam Harris:
”You can’t become happy; you can only be happy. … That’s not to say that the circumstances in your life don’t matter, obviously they do, but they matter much less than you might think. … Either you’re connecting to your life every moment or you are not. … It is almost the core illusion of human life, this deferral of wellbeing to such a time that it’s deemed truly warranted.”
I started researching a topic for my new book, or a dissertation, whichever comes first. And apart from that I was working on essays for my studies.
So, let me summarize what worked for me during this time. I hope you can use this for 2021.
1. A Schedule
I was very focused during the writing process of my book and I can say that it came with its own rewards because I finished the semester very strong. I told myself that I will write from 8 am to 12 am and then take a break and come back to it around 4 pm to 6 pm for a few hours.
These hours are highly focused, however. No distractions. No phones. No email. Just writing and research for my essays. Once again, I find that this worked best for me.
I really like getting in a public space. Because of the pandemic, I was only working on school work at home, hence I chose the dining room table as my study spot in the morning and evening.
I liked it because I had some background noise and also because it was a new environment which I DESPERATELY NEED for productivity.
2. Background Noise
I need background noise.
When I am writing, I usually put on a movie soundtrack of some sort(great choices: Harry Potter — eg “Dumbledor’s Office”; Theory of Everthing; Narnia; Lord of the Rings). But the key here is to choose something that makes you feel warm and fuzzy whilst being productive.
I have found that I need to trick myself into liking the writing process. For example, presently while I am writing this post, I am catching up on some podcasts.
3. The Small Things
When you start feeling tired. Instead of beating yourself up … be nice to yourself. These are not signs of laziness or inadequacy; they are more likely signs of fatigue and burn-out.
Fatigue can come about both while performing unproductive work and being lazy because of a lack of quality sleep, or not drinking enough water, or not getting enough light.
So, the small things REALLY matter for consistent work in writing!
Here are helpful questions to ask yourself when you start feeling tired: ❤️
- are you overworking yourself?
- are you exercising regularly? — even walks will help
- are you eating healthy?
- are you drinking lots of water? — the surest sign of fatigue is water deprivation
Be Kind to Yourself
I dislike the obsession we have with productivity but that doesn’t mean I don’t strive to be “productive” (whatever that really means) responsibly.
Apart from my 4 to 6 hours of writing a day, I take it easy. I separate my writing time from early in the morning (1st thing as I wake up) to after I watch a show with a cup of tea or coffee and after lunch. Then I have my evening lectures on some days, I teach on others, or I’m with friends. If I don’t have these obligations, I have an evening writing session for an hour.
I hope you are able to utilize some of these tactics in your writing schedule! Good luck! And please reach out to me if this helped. I really LOVE connecting with you guys!
AND Before you go…
ALSO, here’s a link to MY BOOK if you wish to purchase it! I appreciate the support.
I’d love it if you’d share the article on Facebook/TWITTER if you want your friends to benefit from it in some way at all.
Until next time, keep reflecting!